First, before we dive more into this topic, I want to make it perfectly clear how I view these end of the year awards. I believe those of you familiar with me will undoubtedly expect nothing less than a piece of wisdom from Ron Swanson.
Second, defensive statistics are not as cut and dry as offensive stats. 12 goals is better than 9 goals, but 100 tackles doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better than 45 tackles. It could, but it could also not. The traditional statistic model means that the more someone did something, the better it is. However, in the case of a defender, sometimes doing less is more. The best example I can give comes from American football cornerbacks. The best corners in the game rarely have any stats recorded (interceptions, pass break ups) because their positioning is so good that opposing QBs will rarely throw the ball in that direction. So in this case, a really good coverage CB gets thrown at 1-3 times a game, therefore reducing his chances of an interception or logging any statistic at all. But the absence of stats isn’t always a good thing either since once the ball is thrown, the CB needs to make a play on it. A zero interception game can mean he did an outstanding job of coverage, or he let the receiver haul in 180 yards and 2 TDs.
All this to say is don’t automatically assume a higher or lower number means better or worse. It’s simply a number that requires interpretation.
Now onto the good stuff:
*It just dawned on me as I was doing some fact checking that these stats are pretty outdated. Though at this point, the variation of the stats shouldn’t range too wildly from where these are with the exception of games and minutes played.
These are probably (I say that loosely as who knows how these things are judged) the five best defenders in MLS this year and I’ll be using Squawka to do some stats comparison. The “Defense Score” is based on an algorithm that Squawka developed to numerically categorizes and log a player’s stats. In this case, the higher the number the better. What I don’t know is how they used those stats to come up with this algorithm but it looks like a decent place to start. But I definitely won’t take away that Hedges is twice as good as Birnbaum.
A couple of stats that I would like to hone in on would be “Aerial Duels” and “Total Duels”. This is where the ball is in the air or in play and the defender needs to make a play on it. A success percentage seems to the most fair way to access this strength and Walker Zimmerman far exceeds the rest of the competition with his aerial prowess. His “Total Duels” percentage is also best among the five defenders, giving insight that when he does go for the tackle, he’s more successful than not.
Blocks and clearances were also included in the analysis simply because I was curious to see how those compared across the board. Again, more blocks and clearances doesn’t necessarily mean better. They simply mean they happened.
Why It Should Be Hedges and/or Walker
Daniel Robertson fired up a couple of tweets a few weeks ago regarding Matt Hedges and his value to the Dallas defense. Take a look below.
A few @Matt_Hedges DOY stats. .96 GAA in FCD appearances this year, 2nd in league 2 Axel Sjoberg(.93). Take out 5-0 vs Houston & its .77 GAA— Daniel Robertson (@DRobertsonFCD) September 30, 2016
Only five times this year have teams scored more than 1 goal in 23 starts for Hedges. Did not play in 5-0, 4-0 or 3-0 losses.— Daniel Robertson (@DRobertsonFCD) September 30, 2016
Now that a few more games have been played since those tweets were launched, Matt Hedges is actually first in the league (0.92 compared to Sjoberg’s 0.93).
Here are the numbers for the five defenders:
Moor and Birnbaum have had impressive seasons, but how their team performed with and without them (strictly in terms of GAA), their teams actually did better without them on the field. (I will admit that the sample size is extremely small in both of these cases.)
However, when you pull those same numbers and look at how the FC Dallas defense compares with and without Walker Zimmerman or Matt Hedges, the differences is staggering, especially when it comes to Hedges. (2.13 GAA without, and league best 0.92 with).
My gut says that the award will go to the player that wins the Shield. If Dallas manages to snag more silverware, it’ll go to Hedges or Zimmerman (Walker is tied for first in the league among defenders with four goals). If Colorado gets it, then it’ll go to Sjoberg. But nonetheless, Dallas is blessed to have two candidates for Defender of the Year, and despite that, are conspicuously and routinely left off the USMNT roster. Go figure.